Game: “Minute of Islands”
Minute of Islands is a narrative-focused puzzle-platformer from German developer Studio Fizbin. You play as Mo, an engineer of sorts, who wakes one day in her underground hideout to a worrying quiet- the machines have gone silent. From here you guide her exploration of a post-apocalyptic archipelago on a mission to wake the giants who power the great subterranean engines that keep the air breathable. Really, though, this is a story about death, grieving; about letting go and moving on.
At A Glance
|+ Beautiful art style and music
|+ Engaging and moving story
|+ Tactile puzzle mechanics
|– Platforming a little weak
|– Some puzzles a bit repetitive
|– Story won’t be to everyone’s taste
|PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
The art style is beautiful, even more so in motion than screenshots can capture, with a huge amount of detail and character captured in the hand-drawn environments. It’s a distinctive style, and works fantastically to capture some truly macabre and gory imagery that, in a more realistic style, would be unpleasantly graphic and highly disturbing. Mo’s world is one where a fungal plague has driven an exodus on the islands of almost all their inhabitants, leaving rot, ruin and a concerning amount of sea life in various stages of dismemberment and decay.
It’s certainly worth knowing going in that, despite the cheerful artistic style, this is a game that deals in quite heavy topics. You can certainly play the first half or so ignoring the metaphorical commentary, but it becomes increasingly dominant as the game goes on. As I said above, the game is very much about grief, loss and coping, so if you find these topics at all uncomfortable then you would probably be better off giving it a miss.
In terms of the gameplay, Minute of Islands is a quite standard 2D puzzle platformer. You guide Mo around the wonderfully detailed environments discovering story nuggets, talking to the remaining survivors and working to clear the air. This is largely done through finding and activating a series of air purifiers that clear the fungal spores from the air, then opening the giants’ underground dwellings and reawakening them. One particularly obtuse puzzle at about the half-way point of the game aside, none of these really gave me any pause, but the challenge of the puzzles isn’t really the point of the game. They can be a little repetitive, but the mechanics of solving them – mostly using the “omni-switch” multi-tool thingamajig – feel pleasantly tactile, and they work well in service of the story. That said, if a challenging platform experience is what you are looking for you would be better off looking elsewhere.
As well as the topic of death, the game also has things to say about the idea of destiny and chosen-one stories. Mo’s omni-switch is a tool given to her by the giants, with which she alone can maintain the engines they have created and now power from beneath the surface. As the game progresses, however, doubt is cast on this role through the excellent narration and dialogue with the survivors – mostly members of Mo’s own family who appear to have remained due to her. I feel this topic could have been explored a little deeper, though with the game mechanics being already somewhat shallow I’d be concerned that extending the game would only lead to a more diluted experience. As it stands it should take around 6-8 hours to get through which feels a good length for the type of game, and decent value for the price as well.
The sound design is excellent, with some very atmospheric music that really builds up as the game comes to its conclusion. The narration is superb, beginning as just characterful exposition but becoming more critical as the game goes on, giving voice to Mo’s own self-doubt about her role in this failing world. The noises of the giants’ underground caverns are highly evocative, from the laboured breathing of their enormous lungs to the uncomfortably organic squelching of the arterial valve-like doorways. These are machines that wouldn’t be out of place in something dreamt up by H. R. Giger, but the art style of the game takes some of that edge off.
Overall Minute of Islands is a deep, thoughtful narrative experience with just enough weight to its simple gameplay to keep interest as you push through to its conclusion. It deals with some difficult subject matter in an engaging and challenging story, and while there are aspects I’d have liked to see it go a little deeper on, for the length and scope of the game I really can’t fault it.
In the interest of full disclosure, the publisher provided VGamingNews with a copy of the game in order to conduct this review.